Becoming a Jellyfish

Nightcore.

Ever heard of it?

If you have, then you are as hip as a third-grader.

I, of course, knew nothing about this until my daughter introduced me to the pseudo-genre. It’s basically songs (usually Tokyo-anime-pop) sped up to the pitch and frequency of chipmunks.

As an aging father, my rolling of disapproving eyes after being introduced to this nonsense unfortunately widened the parent-child social gap between my daughter and me. But seriously, why listen to your favorite song altered when you can hear it just fine the way it is?

Then, upon a long commute one morning, I had an introspective moment where I realized how much of a hypocrite I am. I had been listening to an audiobook in the car at double-speed thanks to this wonderful app: Smart Audiobook Player. Why? Because of that ‘so many books, so little time’ mantra.

Not that spoken words are like songs, but in a way they can be. Especially, if the narrator has a golden voice (how I miss thee, Frank Muller). Speeding up an audiobook can ruin a narrator’s brilliant performance, even if it means you can condense a reading of War and Peace to just under twenty hours.

But what can you do as an avid reader when you’ve little time: books already primed on your e-reader, paperbacks stashed in your bag, and hardcovers beckoning you from the coffee table.

Maybe try to live forever.

Turritopsis Nutricula

It’s basically a species of immortal jellyfish. Well, immortal in the sense that they can virtually regenerate themselves endlessly, provided their regeneration process goes undisturbed.

It’s kind of an eww process where these creatures’ dying parts convert back to a state of conceptualization, becoming a blob of sperm and egg commingling together to form infant tissue that will eventually grow.

Not exactly as exciting as watching bullet wounds heal on Wolverine’s skin. It’d be more like turning into globs of goo for a while, and then: Presto! I’m back!

Ironically, my latest work-in-progress is about immortality, although it has nothing to do with jellyfish, nor the dogma of eternal life through religious means. I’ll post an excerpt at the end of the blog for those who are interested.

In the meantime, until I can become like the jellyfish, I’ll be speed-listening to you great writers at just under Mach 1.

(oh, and to my music fans… I’ll be playing Nashville VIP Lounge at Ascend Amphitheater 6pm 7/6. Yay!)

 

Excerpt: Mortals Chapter 1

FIVE MONTHS AFTER DAY OF ETERNE

 

It looked like a prison bus.

That’s what Seb Freeman first thought as his father slowed the pickup truck to a stop in front of a soldier garbed in full black. Seb craned his neck to look through the windshield, looking past the soldier where the bus parked in the distance in front of an electrified fence laced with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire, the bus’s dull-blue color seeming to suck away the morning sunlight and canceling out the vibrant greenery that surrounded it. Seb should have been glaring with fascination at the small group of people lined up next to the bus. It had been months since he’d last seen another mortal, and he knew he would soon marvel over these kindred strangers that were like him. But all he could do at this moment was stare at the bus, disenchanted. This was his transport to possible immortality, to become like his father, his town, and practically the whole world. All of it riding on nothing more than a stripped-down prisoner bus.

Seb’s father rolled down the driver window, the whirring sound of the power-window dissolving Seb’s stupor. Hot summer air gushed into the pickup cab as Seb turned to see the soldier peer in with a dark-gloved hand spread open expectantly toward his father. The soldier wore a gleaming black metal helmet with a tinted visor and Seb wondered as he noted the strange but familiar plastic glaze of the soldier’s eyes why immortal soldiers would even need a helmet to protect their heads or a visor to shield their eyes from sunlight. Then Seb’s thoughts went cold when he saw the protruding muzzle of a black M-16 strapped behind the soldier’s back. Seb knew the war had been escalating on the borders, but guns had become obsolete since Day of Eterne, becoming an ineffectual weapon against gods fighting gods.

End of excerpt

 

 

 

 

Weirdbook Magazine #32

My parents did not play the guitar.

Nor can anyone in my immediate family make it gently weep (not yet, at least… I’ll be waiting on one of my youngins’ to grapple the six-string-relay baton from my cold dead hands one day and speed forth).

Yet, progeny aside, it’s interesting to see other parents out there validate the “born-not-made” principle, a debate I really don’t pay much cause to. But still…

Case in point.

Currently reading the new Joe Hill novel, The Fireman.

I’m a fan of his since the 20th Century Ghost days, before I even knew who his father was. And now that I know, it begs the question: Do the parents pass the ‘awesome-sick-talent’ gene along? Don’t know — but I guess it doesn’t really matter. What’s in my reading hands right now is well worth the read. That’s point enough for me. Regardless of how you were made, even with test tubes and Bunsen burners, you alone make you happen. And this boy Hillstrom did just that. Bang on!

But strange that I think of this now because I’m thinking about the latest short story I did that recently hit the public along with writers-greater-than-me. My little daughter asked to read it. I declined. Not that the content is sexually perverse or gore-ensued, but I just want her to find her own way right now and not be manipulated by my fledgling efforts. So far as eight-year-olds go, she’s well on her way without my interference.

Interesting side note to Clay Baby, which is the name of this particular tale released in Weirdbook Magazine #32.

I follow Chuck Wendig’s blog, terribleminds.com.  Why? Just because he digitally yells a lot and uses a lot of colorful metaphors that Spock would approve. Also, he’s a great writer (and screw you Aftermath haters).

Mr. Wendig challenged his crew with a writing prompt. I’m not a jump-right-in type whenever it comes to writing prompts. I often scoot my chair back and say, “Maybe not right now.” Yet I jumped in on this one several months back. The prompt was: Take a random picture posted by other fellow writers and come up with a string of words on your own.

I scanned through several pictures. Many were dark and disturbing, showing shadows and hidden etches of life well left hidden. Others were enchanting, showing picturesque moments of nature or florid captures of flowery lands.

Then there was this one picture posted by the talented writer, Diedra Black. It was a strange picture of some clay happy thing on a table.

I immediately thought: Okay, crazy psycho kidnaps family and this clay thing will somehow save their lives. But that didn’t work. So how about a kid comes home from school and sees this thing on the table, and it comes to life like a Smurf — zip-a-dee-do-dah. That sucked. I went over and over, trying to come up with something remotely worth writing. Couldn’t plan it. Couldn’t plot it.

In the end, I just let the words come out, and the result pleased me as much as it pleased the folks at Wildside Press. Glad to have it aboard (especially on a mag that Joe Hill’s father might remember back in the early 80’s).

It’s a short piece, though above the threshold of flash fiction.

If you’re into weird, speculative fiction, you may check it out at:
WEIRDBOOK MAGAZINE #32

Special thanks to Ms. Black for her picture contribution!

Love you guys!

weirdbook-32

Emails from the Dead

I had a story idea once about a teen girl who hacked old email accounts of deceased people.

Her purpose for hacking these accounts — besides the IT-driven creed of ‘because I can’ — was to read through the old emails of these people no longer among the living. She’d sift for hours upon days reading the back-and-forth personal correspondences of these emails that belonged to the dead, trying to understand their use of verbiage and strange writing tics so she could better convey who these people were in life and what type of personalities they had.

When she was confident of her mimicking, she would send emails out from these hacked accounts, pretending to be the deceased sending messages from the afterlife. She would get in touch with the dead’s closest acquaintances (names and email addresses gleaned from contact lists and inbox histories). Her messages included telling widows to find companionship; parents to not mourn; and children to grow up strong.

She would part her messages with, “I’ll always be here for you if you ever need to talk to me.”

Many of her attempts failed as email accounts were shut down, many of her messages blocked or left unanswered. Sometimes she’d get a reply from someone outraged, dejected or horrified: Is this some kind of sick joke? A lot of responses left brick walls she could not climb: If this is really you, what’s our son doing right now in Afghanistan?

But on the rare occasions where her fruits were answered properly, her reward came from those that wanted to believe they were talking to their lost loved one. Their replies back to her, timid and reluctant at first, had become hungry for more communication with each send. She’d respond eagerly, appeasing her audience. Perhaps there was a mutual ruse, but she felt good about herself and what she was doing. She was dishing out closure, be it false closure.

I chose not to write this one because of the big hero flaw and the fact that it really had no plot, but it reminded me of something I did while toiling social media the other day.

I knowingly sent a ‘Happy Birthday’ Facebook post to an old friend I knew that had died a few years ago, his page still active, however. I had no immediate explanation for why I did it. I just felt compelled to do it. Was I expecting this person who had passed on to check his Facebook page and go: Cool. Thanks?

Not really. But I had to send it anyway. Maybe this act has evolved into a form of cyber-shrine visit, for I wasn’t the only one that wished this dearly-departed a Happy Birthday. Nor am I the only one to engage in this type of act for just this one person. This is a common occurrence, an accepted behavior. Several messages go out daily online to or on behalf of the dead-long-past for the sake of loving remembrance.

The motives might be pure or for show, but it brings me back to that girl-hacker and what was pulling on her heart-strings when she’d read those messages to the departed, and how she’d taken on the other side and had become a virtual speaker for the dead, like Orson Scott Card turned Ender into later on. She wanted to give closure, peace and a validation of an afterlife.

Maybe we want to believe some or none of that, but something definitely pulls many of us in and makes us want to reach out and say to our lost loved ones: I am thinking of you right now, and I’m taking time out to remember you. I hope and wish you could hear me right now.

Imagine if we get an answer back.

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Pigtails Released in CCQ #2

Independent courier.

The job sounded menial, almost mundane. Prerequisite skills were mainly having a clean driving record, being able to lift from feather-light to backbreaking weighted parcel, being on call from dawn till next dawn, and — most important — having your own set of wheels to tow all that crap around.

Many years back, while strapped for cash in my last get-me-the-hell-out-of-here year of college, I took on the job as an independent courier, with my mighty Chevy S10 pickup and Home Depot dolly.

Immediately, I learned the harsh reality of the job. Paychecks were shaved down painfully by gas and maintenance expenses. ‘On-call’ meant forget any free time to live, let alone survive. Delivery miles were grueling, whether in cramped city infrastructure or through long stretches of freeway. Residential deliveries past midnight were always odd and unsettling. And I learned how to ignore the contents of what it was I was delivering, be it a body part or horse semen (and, yes, I’ve delivered both).

There were perks during the long travels, though. You got to see much of outside. You drove through beautiful roads you’d never seen before and would probably never see again, taking you sometimes through breathtaking scenic lands where tranquility resided. Those moments of travel offset the nasty, grinding fight through heavy, human-congested traffic.

In my reverie, I like to remember those times where the beauty of nature allowed the pass of a quaint, country road.

But then some of those roads began to lie to me. They made me feel safe for a spell and then opened up their true faces. They made me feel like I had crossed over into a strange place where I was not welcomed. The placid scenery around me transmogrified into an eerie space of unkempt fields full of crowding, decaying trees. Sometimes when driving on this road where it seemed no human should dwell, I’d pass by a lone figure standing on the side, perched still like a mile marker and looking back at me with wary, mistrustful eyes.

On these roads you never want to break down. Despite our advanced navigation systems, some of these roads still remain uncharted, hidden curving and snakelike underneath the guise of the mountains and countryside that shroud them and their strange secrets.

This is what inspired the short story: Pigtails.

EMP Publishing just released Creepy Campfire Quarterly #2, and I’m thankful this story got to be a part of a wonderful collection of stories from other great writers.

If you like strange horror, please go check it out through the link below (and if you like it, please leave a review).

CCQ #2

Thanks as usual. Love to you all.

JLT

creepycampfire

 

 

Spoiler Alert: Everyone Dies!

Ever feel like you are in on a secret after reading a story?

You proudly walk around knowing how a book ends, what happened to this character and that one and all of those silly plot twists here and there. If there’s a movie or TV series out there based on the story, you would gladly cite the differences (maybe with pride or arrogance). And, ultimately, you hold power over those not in the know.

There’s a wonderful and dangerous drug in writing where the writer may hide (or lie about) a story morsel and then later reveal as things start unraveling. Whether it’s from ironclad outlining or plucked blindly from Never-Ether-Land, those well-placed story bullets can literaturally blow a reader’s mind.

Then it comes down to the payoff. It’s the writer’s promise to the reader. It’s your reward, or lack thereof, as a reader for following the bread crumbs to the last word of the story.

So why the hell would something so heinous as a spoiler t-shirt exist on our home world? You! Take that off now!

There is no such thing as statutes of limitation on spoilers. Let our children find out for themselves who the hell Rosebud was. Let them find out if the top of Roland’s Dark Tower is empty or not. Let them understand why M Night Shyamalan could only yell Surprise! for so long. And yeah, it’s common knowledge — perhaps taught in kindergarten– who Luke’s father was, but at least I showed the movie first to my kids before blabbing about it.

These spoiler t-shirts should be abolished, especially those homemade ones spun together like less-than-stellar meth Walter White would mock (yes, there are people out there who don’t know what happened to Mr. White).

Okay, there are more damaging things a person can do in life to others. We do live in a world where random acts of violence occur almost non-randomly. Spoiling a story for others is definitely not the same as shooting someone.

But it is about spoiler-folks being assholes.

It’s about them bastardizing a writer’s work and stealing away the magic of the story. The spoiler-folks laugh it off because the concept is so simple; it takes trivial effort to share spoilers with others with merely a quip, some keystrokes or wearing a stupid t-shirt. You don’t even have to have read the story. Just pass along the ruination to others, weakening the power of the story until it is dead. Only assholes would do this.

Spoiler-folks use public toilets and they piss on the seats. They walk around in the summertime saying ‘How about this heat.’

At least spoiler-folks are limited to what they know (Lisbeth Salander is safe for a while).

If you of the non-spoiler types see these mongrels, perhaps at a book signing, wearing their spoiler t-shirts stating ‘[Character name] Dies,’ stay away from these people. Maybe if you ignore them, they will go away completely. They are not cute. They are not cool because they know something you don’t. They do not impress the author with their sense of boldness or originality. They are there just to piss you off.

With great power comes great responsibility. If someone hands you apparel that can spoil 100 books at once, please, I beg you, put it away. Hide it from the children of our future. In the meantime, continue to read what you want to know about. Watch what you’ve been waiting to see. Only then will you take away the power of the spoiler-people.

 

 

 

 

A Catalog of Souls

His mouth opened one last time, his final agonal breath expelling in a soft moan for his fiancé to hear. She wept over him, her tears spilling on hospital linen. Too young. Both of them. And now he’s dead.

She wept for the remaining years of her life, religiously visiting the spot of land where her fiancé lay buried underneath.

Soon time had eaten her, her old bones withering to dust in the ground next to him.

He woke to the chill of cold air tingling inside his lungs. The man standing next to his bed smiled.

“What do you remember?” the man asked him.

“Her,” he said. “Where is she?”

The man straightened the white of his uniform with his hands. The gleam in the man’s eye held the weight of good news.

“She’ll be with you soon,” the man said. “Her name is also in the catalog.”

Behind the man was a glass wall, shielding the frigid, black space outside. Through the glass, several white objects, jagged in their structure, floated calmly through the black sea.

“Where do you want to meet her?” the man asked him.

“I remember dying,” he said. “She was there with me, there in the hospital — crying.”

“Ah, I see,” said the man. “That’s a popular choice. Close your eyes.”

He closed his eyes.

The bed hardened, changing. Soft tears dropped on his face. He opened his eyes and saw her leaning over him. Her eyes became saucers. Her mouth opened in surprise. The joy of seeing him alive.

“Hi,” he said.

Hands touching each other. Touching reality.

“Don’t ever do that again!” she cried, hugging him tight.

He frowned. “What did I do?”

“You died,” she said.

“Yes,” he agreed. “But I came back. We came back. How is that possible?”

They cried together, forehead to forehead, and then she said, “Does it matter?”

A stranger burst into the hospital room, a knife in his hand.

“This is wrong!” the stranger shouted. “This. All of this. Unending. They don’t have the right!”

He raised the knife over the couple.

“Hold me tight,” she said to her eternal love. “They’ll bring us back.”

Steel on flesh. Blood dripping on white tile.

***

A finger scans through a list.

“Those names look familiar,” a voice says.

THE END

© Jack Lee Taylor 2015

Playing Dodgeball (Why I Write)

(in response to Chuck Wendig’s question:  Why I write)

Two third-graders remained, back-to-back survivors outside on the basketball court during a sunny day at recess. Only, it wasn’t basketball these two kids were trying to endure. They were surrounded by their squabbling classmates bounded only by a painted yellow line on the asphalt. I, through no amount of athletics, had been one of the two kids that lasted this long in a sadistic version of dodgeball.

Some call it ‘poisonball’. The rules are simple. No teams. Players outside the square try to hit the players inside the square with a dodgeball. Players inside dodge, and if an insider player can catch a ball thrown from a player outside, then the outside player has to come in the square. Last player standing inside the square wins after successfully dodging or catching a ball.

I remember the other kid next to me took it hard on the face, and then all eyes fell on me with brutally-honest looks of disbelief. This guy? The last one? He never makes it this far. I’m even bewildered. The fatass coach from faraway is whistling the kids back in, time for next class, but Hell No! I’ve made it this far. And the crazy thing is, the other kids don’t leave. Let’s just see if this loser can win. They defer to the gunslinger to throw the killing blow — the one that took out the girl just before me. All I have to do is dodge it. Don’t even try to catch it.

I tried to catch it.

Next class was English. I sucked at English like I sucked at catching a ball. There were the other kids from recess with their disapproving looks. “Why did you even try to catch it?” one of them asked. “You know you can’t catch anything.” I think he might have been my best friend.

The assignment for the class was to read out loud whatever creative drivel a third-grader could muster from the night before. Mind you, this was during the 80s, and we had no inkling we’d be part of the aged pop-culture stereotype of neon-colored shirts, Pac-Man and Sony Walkmans.

I remember being so damned nervous (an anxiety that stays with me today). That night before, I wrote four pages of scribbly long-hand about what? Skeletons? Skeletons in caves? Why did I write about that?

Then I remembered that when I was writing the piece, I had such fun with it — a painful kind of fun. The story came out haltingly at first and then gushed out into a swashbuckling romp about a kid that gets lost in the woods and finds a cave full of reanimated skeletons. Fighting ensues. Bones get broken.

I read that story to the class, voice quavering. This was the failed dodgeball survivor. I never looked up from the pages, reading out loud and telling the story to myself (and strangely enjoying it from afar). When I was done, I felt like I was zapped once by an electric cattle-prod because kids were clapping. Loud applause. Genuine. Suddenly, I’m not that kid who tried to stare dodgeball fate in the face and lost. I had transcended that, and all of this from words I plucked from my mind and put on the page. It was magical. Not everyone clapped, my best friend among those looking at me like I came from another planet, but that writer-spirit that had revealed itself to me that day was too powerful to deny. It said, “Finally, you’re listening to me. Now get your shit together and start writing more.”

Years passed. I tried to rekindle that school-day magic and found myself too distracted and aloof, periods of my life without putting words to story. Youth excuses a lot, but the muse stuck with me somehow. Even during those periods of my life where other talents and events took over and tried to quiet down the writer inside, the nagging itch to write remained.

College was more than confusing. So confusing I didn’t even try to improve my writing through academia. One semester my writing is loved and heralded by an English professor. The following semester an English professor is beheading everything I write with a sea of red ink.

I cleverly tried to destroy my writing urges by hanging around those that had no business or interest in fiction writing. It’s pretty easy to find people waiting to throw rubber balls at you (real or imaginary). Then I realize I’m that kid again in the middle of the square waiting to get hit. Do I dodge or get hit? Don’t even try to catch the ball.

But that’s what writing became.

I tried to catch the ball because it wasn’t part of my logic. Writing can be something SO difficult and improbable, I shouldn’t even try to attempt it. Yet, here I am, still doing it, wondering if I can actually catch that ball this time and put something amazing down on paper.

I’ve spent countless hours recording music, creating entire fully-produced songs lone-wolf style. It’s as exhilarating as it is exhaustive. You create as a god. First there is nothing, then there is something: an intangible thing spawning from neurotransmitters traveling across synapses. The end result, whether good or bad, is something that is tangible, sonically, at least. It’s here and it’s real.

As much of a rush that may sound like, it compares nothing to the feeling of the writing process for me. It’s a mad thing to do, and yet it’s what I want and continue to do. There are so many great writers and great works, known and unknown, everywhere, fueling and goading me on.

After decades of aimless writing and wallops of rejection, I am now a published writer, but I’m still just breaking the surface. And though they are still out there, along with my dangerous self-doubts and time constraints, dodgeballs in hands, I’m still crazy enough to stand there waiting for them to throw.